Garden Related Activities


Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September
Image of a hot air balloon taken while looking up through a spider’s web


Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

-Albert Einstein

Somebody has said to expect the unexpected and that is exactly what may happen in our travels outdoors. No matter how many times someone may walk the same path in the woods or hills, visit the same beach, walk around the yard or the neighborhood or even enter a building, there can be pleasant surprises every time. There are changes in light or shadows, weather, cloud formations, the colors of leaves, skies or flowers, and the springing up of new plants as seasons change that present new wonders every day.

Pompom dahlia close-up

Look up, down and all around and there are sure to be even the smallest of delights, even if just for the briefest moment in time. Stunning displays in scenery or charming encounters with another creature can lift one’s spirit and become a pleasant memory somewhere down the road.


A black and white koi happened to swim by in water appearing black because of dark skies on this rainy day at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Annual garden Harkness Memorial State Park
110 year old threadleaf maple-Harkness
Waning crescent moon and venus predawn October 13 2020
The whole moon was visible to the observer

It doesn’t have to be nature alone that provides unforeseen pleasure to the eyes and spirit. Perhaps simply a building seen in a new light will, out of the blue, add a bit of whimsy to an ordinary bit of scenery. Sometimes buildings are far more interesting when light or reflections change everything, if only for the briefest moment. Every day the sun changes position slightly and light may differ in color just a little bit. If something strikes you, catch the image as it will probably never be seen in quite the same light again.

Pergola shadows framed an entryway for a moment in time
Reflections of building on windows of other buildings in downtown Hartford



Nature presents the most impressive compositions that are unequaled in the best of man-made designs. Every little thing can become a natural diorama

Nimbostratus cloud hanging low
Common tansy, (Tanacetum vulgare), while considered invasive, still is attractive with its bright yellow disc flowers in bloom this October along a roadside in Old Lyme.
Woodland pond with reflected yellow from maple and birch leaves  created this image when two mallard ducks took off and made some waves.
These mushrooms look like tiny parasols
Mushrooms with caps in three different stages
These mums have an artistic appearance better than any painting could try to capture.

On this October day several years ago, these majestic, ancient sugar maples formed a tunnel over the country road leading to the former Golden Lamb Buttery. Since then, many of the trees have been lost due to old age and storm damage.

Country road in Pomfret in autumn
White oak leaf displaying one of several possible fall colors this tree may have.
Staghorn sumac Rhus typhina, is related to the cashew. It has attractive red seed heads and autumn foliage.  

As the season winds down and gets less colorful, there will still be moments that will give an occasion to cheers us up and maybe makes us laugh a little Maybe something as commonplace as… a weathervane…

Cat and mouse

Pamm Cooper

Painted lady on boneset

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

– William Shakespeare

Sedum var ‘Autumn Joy’ attracts many species of butterflies and bees

The grand finale of the blooming season is here and while many plants are winding down their bloom period, other plants are still in great form or are yet to put on their show of flowers. There are still many species of pollinators, especially native bees and honeybees, that are active and needful of pollen and nectar sources late in the year. And butterflies, especially those that migrate, are in the same biological boat, needing energy providing nectar sources for their long journeys south. Many annual, perennial and woody plants provide all of them with the food sources they need to accomplish their late season undertakings.        

  

Tiger swallowtail visiting aster flowers
Anise hyssop is a favorite of butterflies and bees
Giant swallowtail on Hyssop at James L. Goodwin State Forest
Agastache ‘Kudos Coral’ -a variety of anise hyssop

Among annuals that are late-season bloomers there are too many to name, but some of the best for pollinators and butterflies include Torenia, zinnias, sunflowers, Lantana, petunia, sweet potato vine, salvias, and sweet alyssum Lobularia maritima. Some of these may still bloom after a light frost, so place them carefully in the garden or planter.

Painted lady on a variety of annual salvia
Bumblebees go inside certain flowers, like this annual Torenia
Painted lady on annual Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia

Late- blooming perennials for pollinators and butterflies are numerous, and are best when mixed together for easy access for pollinating insects. For example, planting several tall garden phlox, asters, and goldenrods together makes it easy for bees to travel short distances to preferred flowers. In the wild native asters, goldenrods, boneset, snakeroot and woodland sunflowers and Rudbeckia often occur together.

Spotted Joe-pye weed, boneset and goldenrods in their natural setting
Tiny green Halictidae bee on goldenrod
Wool carder bee on calamint

Among late season blooming non-native perennials, obedient plant, guara, Echinacea, veronica , hyssop varieties , sedums, Coreopsis and others are long bloomers that are preferred by the greatest variety of bee and butterfly species. Some may need to be dead–headed as needed to encourage maximum flower development.

Honey bee visiting obedient plant flower

Native perennials for pollinators like black snakeroot, asters, goldenrods, boneset, white snakeroot, Rudbeckia, mountain mint, closed gentians and turtlehead are among those  visited may many species of bees, wasps and butterflies. Turtlehead and closed bottle gentians need a robust pollinator like a bumblebee that is able to barge its way into the flowers and then exit

.

Pink variety of turtlehead with bumblebee visitors
Native turtlehead

Spotted bee balm, Monarda punctata is a short-lived perennial that has showy pagoda-like colorful bracts that the small, purple spotted tubular flowers rest upon. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators, blooms last for weeks. The plants have an appearance similar to an illustration in a Dr.  Suess book.

Spotted bee balm
Summer azure on spotted bee balm flower-James L. Goodwin State Forest garden

Black snakeroot, cimicifuga ramose, also called bugbane or Actaea, is a tall late-blooming perennial that is very attractive to bees. It has sweet-smelling white flowers on long spikes that attract bees, flies, flower beetles and small butterflies. Blooming in late September into October, it is a good shade- loving perennial for late flying pollinators .

Cimicifuga sp. snakeroot
unknown moth and honey bee on snakeroot

Among shrubs and trees that bloom late in the year Franklinia, witch hazel, rose-of-Sharon, sweet autumn clematis (a wonderful vine loaded with white sweet scented flowers), paniculata varieties of hydrangea and lespedeza bush clover are good pollen and nectar sources for bees and butterflies. Native witch hazel blooms the latest- starting in early October- and is striking when its peculiar yellow flowers bloom when its leaves are also yellow. This plant may bloom well into November, providing food for those bees and other pollinators that are still active very late in the year. Caryopteris– common name bluebeard- is also frequented by various bees and butterflies

Lespedeza thunbergii bush clover
Native fall blooming witch hazel still in flower in November after leaves have fallen
Bluebeard–Caryopteris--and bumblebees
Sweet autumn clematis
Franklinia tree flowering in late September- early October

Getting outside in both the natural and home landscape will provide moments of thoughtful consideration for the small, engaging things that are taking place around us. Whether insects, flowers or simply the changing of leaf color, there are so many things happening we should try not to miss. One of them has been the magnificent orange sun at dawn and dusk, even though the cause of this phenomenon is heart-rending.  

Sunrise September 15 2020 featured an orange sun due to smoke drifting across the nation from wildfires in the western U.S..

Pamm Cooper

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” Claude Monet

Any wise gardener knows that it is a good thing to walk around your own property as often as possible often to keep alert to pests, pruning needs, vegetables that can be harvested, plants in trouble or simply to enjoy the rewards of one’s labor. I am a firm believer that gardening is not for sissies nor is it uninteresting. The excitement never ends. A trip around my property this week gave a little insight as to how much activity is going on in such a small area.

welcome rock by step

Welcome rock by the front step

Swamp milkweed flowers are great for insects, among them the Mydas fly, Mydas clavats, a large wasp mimic which was on mine. This fly is recognizable by its metallic blue color and broad orange band on the abdomen. They have clubbed antennal tips, much like butterflies, and a stout sponging mouthpart which it uses to obtain nectar from flowers.

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

I was surprised to find a male Melissodes subillata, a rather unknown genus of the long-horned bees, tribe Eucerini, in my front garden. Males have very long antennae, and the subillata ‘s are reddish brown. Males are distinguished by these antennae, a yellow dot on each side of the mandibles and thorax hairs that are both light and dark. Females pollinate Asteraceae family flowers including wild chicory, plus milkweed and thistles. There was also a golden fronted bumblebee in the same garden.

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

 Acropteroxys gracilis, the slender lizard beetle, is a member of the Erotylidae family of beetles that includes the pleasing fungus beetles. It is reported to feed on ragweed and other agricultural weeds

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracilis slender lizard beetle

There seem to be few butterflies around so far, but recently there was a great spangled fritillary on an invasive spotted knapweed flower nearby. A few skipper species have been around as well as a monarch and tiger swallowtails.

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

spicebush on tickseed my garden

Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

Hippodamia variegate, small ladybeetles that are found especially where asters and Queen Anne’s lace occur in the wild have been studied for use as agricultural pest predators of certain aphids. The reproductive performance of these diminutive beetles is increased with the availability of Brassica and Sonchus (Asteraceae) flowers for pollen and nectar sources. Males and females have different markings on the thorax.

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

Because of continued hot days and drought conditions, it is important to keep birdbaths full of fresh water. Dark colored birdbaths should be kept out of afternoon sun, as should metal ones as water will get hot. A red-shouldered hawk was enjoying a very long bath in my neighbor’s cement birdbath last evening.

red shouldered hawk in neighbor's bird bath

Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

Trimming certain hedges now may get exciting if there are paper wasp nests hidden among the branches. Tap bushes with a long handled rake before trimming to see if there is any wasp activity. At least you will know what areas to skip for the time being. Sometimes a bird’s nest may be found there, and if eggs or young are in it, leave the nest there until young bird have fledged.

chipping sparrow nest in boxwood hedge 7-9-2020

Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

Deer, rabbits and woodchucks or other animals may be eating plants, but squirrels at my place, or at least one nutty one, are the only animal problem so far. The hummingbird feeder is drained daily – had to get a metal one because they chewed through the plastic one. Of course, this meant war, and the solution was to use string as a maze around the branches surrounding the feeder to deny access. So far, so good.

P1210602

There are dozens of small frogs, toads and tree frogs all over the lawn and gardens. They seemed to appear within days of each other. There must be plenty of insects for them to eat and I am hoping they are partial to earwigs!

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

Here’s hoping that soon there will come an end to the heat and drought, a rainbow in the afternoon and cool evenings for a pleasant sleep. Also, that woodchucks will not like the taste of any of the garden plants and squirrels will lose their sweet tooth. I am indeed a dreamer…

rainbow

Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper

Just as the addition of a colorful bow dresses up a gift, both mulch and perennial ground covers can add the finishing touch to garden beds. When used to cover bare soil, both mulch and living ground covers discourage weeds, control soil erosion, and stabilize soil temperature and moisture. The advantage of one over the other comes when considering that mulch must be reapplied regularly, and ground covers, once established, reproduce themselves and need only periodic attention to thin or control some that wander. Often, it’s the final vision the gardener has for the landscape that  will determine which to use.

Ground cover types range from slow growers to ones that are true invasives. Slow growers include several varieties of shade tolerant phlox such as the creeping phlox (Phlox stolinifera), and the woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata).  The moss phlox (Phlox subulata) enjoys sunny spots as does candytuft (Iberis sempervirens).

1610753-moss-phlox-bugwood

Moss phlox-bugwood.org photo

Candytuft John Ruler University of Georgia Bugwood.org

Candytuft photo by John Ruler University of Georgia Bugwood.org

If you are an impatient gardener, moderately speedy popular plants include sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), and Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila).  Each of these plants prefers shady areas for best growth, and they generally do well in moderately moist, fertile soil.

Other moderate creepers that do well in part-shade to sunny locations include bugleweed (Ajuga reptens), low growing sedum, such as Sedum rupestra, periwinkle/myrtle (Vinca minor), and creeping thyme (Thymus praecox). These plants prefer moderately moist soil except for the thyme, which prefers a somewhat dry soil.

IMG_0567 ajuga

Ajuga

This group of plants also includes the familiar pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis). It grows by rhizomes that form stems that spread underground, producing roots that send up new plants. In ideal growing conditions it can be aggressive but can be controlled by removing the roaming underground rooted stems by hand.  It grows in partial and full shade as well as partial sun, but full sun causes poor growth. It needs a moist, well-drained soil and does not tolerate drought.

IMG_0593 pachysandra under elderberry

Pachysandra under trees and shrubs

A group of plants that should be avoided in home gardens includes those that are very aggressive growers. One in this group, goutweed/bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), is on the Connecticut Invasive Plant List. It is said to need a mechanical barrier surrounding it to prevent it from wandering beyond its intended space.

goutweed, varigated

Variegated goutweed

green_leaf goutweed (1)

Goutweed- green leaves

A plant of similar aggressive habit, gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), required hours of work to remove a mature patch –  little volunteers are still popping up weeks later! While attractive when massed in open spaces, it is so aggressive that “Perennial Gardens” author Allan Armitage wrote that the right place for this plant “happens to be an island bed surrounded by concrete.”  Two plants also bearing the loosestrife name, garden yellow loosestrife (Lysmachia vulgaris), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria,), are included on the Connecticut Invasive Plant List and cannot be sold in the state.

Sometimes mulch is the preferred ground cover. If a perennial bed has plants with attractive foliage or flowers that deserve attention, or where it would be hard to provide needed moisture, mulch can be a good option.

IMG_0587 mulch cover 5

Natural cedar mulch

Mulch can be organic, from shredded tree products, straw, salt march hay, dried grass clippings, compost, or pine needles. To be effective at slowing weed growth, helping retain soil moisture and moderating soil temperature, organic mulch must be replaced regularly.  However, it is not necessary to remove older mulch before adding a new layer. Often older mulch develops a crust-like surface so it should be loosened with a rake or other pronged tool so water will penetrate the surface. Some prefer using a color-treated mulch, which is not harmful to plants since the color comes from vegetable dyes.

Some problems that can come from using organic mulch include making the layer thicker than 3 inches, which prevents water and oxygen from penetrating the soil, and putting the mulch too close to the base of shrubs and trees, which encourages snails, slugs, burrowing animals and wood boring insects to settle in.

Inorganic mulch includes crushed stone, gravel, black plastic or landscape fabric. Depending on the choice of material, inorganic mulches have various advantages and disadvantages. Some allow water and oxygen to penetrate the barrier and keep weeds from breaking through. Some last for many years but some break down when exposed to sunlight and don’t allow water and oxygen to penetrate. Some are inexpensive, and others are expensive.  Budget can be a deciding factor.

When it comes to choosing between use of a living ground cover or a type of mulch, the final decision depends on the reason for using the ground cover, how much energy the gardener has to maintain the ground cover and even what image the gardener wants to project for the garden beds. In the end, the choice should consider how the ground cover will benefit the plants that are growing in the garden.

Jean Laughman, UConn Home and Garden Education Center

Lilac in snow 3

These are some crazy times lately. Snow in the second week of May just adds to the disruptions in our lives right now. Folks are looking to their yard and gardens to bring stability to the upheaval in their lives, and snow and cold weather does not ease the mind. However, mother nature has a way of healing the plants and in doing so, shows us we will heal, too.

Some blossoms will sustain damage without the entire plant being lost. Some plants will succumb to the freeze, but these plants are ones that grow naturally and natively in much warmer areas which would not experience snow or freezing weather. If tomatoes or marigolds were planted out in the garden, they most likely were killed from the freeze. See packets and transplant labels state to wait to plant after all danger of frost has passed. For us in Connecticut, May 15th is the average last frost date. I err on the side of caution, waiting until Memorial Day when the soil as warmed considerably before planting cucumbers, peppers, petunias, squash and tomatoes. Putting these plants into cold soil will shock and stunt them for the rest of the growing season.

Perennial plants in our area are like old friends, returning home after a long absence. The familiarity of finding them in walk abouts, makes the world seem normal. Even some stalwart rhubarb laden with snow gives me hope we will weather  our storms. Rhubarb is a hardy perennial vegetable, providing pies and baked goods from its leaf stalk. Don’t eat the leaves as they contain a high level of oxalates the body doesn’t handle well. Better to use the leaves in the compost or lay them on the ground in the vegetable garden to keep the weeds down. They cover a lot of area.

Rhubarb in snowEarlier in the week, I removed a flowering stalk from the rhubarb plant, to conserve the plant’s energy by not producing seed. Removal of the flower helps the clump grow bigger and get stronger.

rhubarb flower stalk

Cut the rhubarb flower stalk at the base of the plant and compost it or use it in a flower arrangement.

Lilacs are a long-lived, woody shrub capable of with-standing freezes and snow. The flower buds were encased with ice and snow, but should bounce right back; only time will tell. The plant itself can live for over 100 years!

Lilac in snow one bud open

Magnolia is  another woody tree that lives a long time, but its flowers are often damaged by frost and cold weather. The photo below was taken before the snow  but after a frost, of Magnolia x soulangeana, showing the damage to the open blossom and the newly opened flower that was in bud at the time of the frost. After today’s snow, the petals have all fallen.Magnolia flower and cold damaged one

Flowering quince is a hardy shrub tolerant of late freezes. Its scarlet flowers didn’t blink with a covering of snow, shaking them off to shine brightly by noon once the sun came out. Each blossom should be appreciated up close for its rose like shape. Unfortunately, it is a pretty scraggly and unkempt specimen the rest of the year. She reminds of a  disheveled  and gangly teenage boy that cleans up nicely for prom, but only once a year.

quince flowering

Clove current is blooming, and before the snow released its spice scented aroma to soft wind. Hopefully, once the warmer weather returns so will the shrub’s offering to those in backyard.

 

Clove current flower

I spoke of plants returning like old friends, expecting nothing from you except your company. They don’t try to change you or bring you around to around to their new found way of processing the world. Plants would never talk politics with you. They are just happy with your company. I think people could take a lesson or two from plants. Even weeds are consistently reappearing, each in their own time bringing a sense of comfortable familiarity. Chickweed has arrived, budded up with blossoms open in sunnier spots.

Chickweed

Bedstraw aka catchweed is entwining the old-fashioned shrub roses rescued from a 1600’s cemetery on Cape Cod. The paving truck was laying an asphalt walkway right over the rambling mass of thorny branches. I had to at least save a few in the way of its destructive path. The bedstraw always appears only in these bushes, making me think they must be old friends, too. I pull a few but don’t have the heart to remove them all, plus I like their airy foliage mixing with the deep pink roses once they bloom in June.

bedstraw at rose base

Milkweed shoots are up, promising a food source for many caterpillars and other insects. The monarch butterfly used milkweed species exclusively on which to lay eggs and for its larva. Common milkweed can become weedy as it spreads via seed and root, enlarging its colony each year.

Milkweed shoots

 

I hope you find the return of old friends in the garden and maybe add a few new ones this season.

-Carol Quish

The weather has definitely turned its thoughts to winter here in New England. Snow and ice have blanketed our landscapes several times already and it will be months before most plants are actively growing, putting out flowers to attract pollinators.

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are clustered in their nests or man-made hives for the winter. Unfortunately, during prolonged cold spells, many bees may die off. If the nest has enough stored pollen and honey then the queen may begin to lay small numbers of eggs early in the new year to help the population recover. Once fresh sources of food are available in early spring brood rearing can begin in earnest. Early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and witch hazel and perennials like bloodroot, trillium, and Lenten rose are great plants to have in your yard as early sources of nectar. Additional early-flowering perennials can be found at our fact sheet Perennials. Clockwise from the upper left are witch hazel, Lenten rose, and lilac.

In April, a colony will be able to collect enough pollen and nectar to begin honey production. Commercial hives world-wide produced over 4 billion pounds of honey in 2017. The chances are pretty good that you consumed some honey last year, either as a sweetener in a beverage, in cooking or baking, or on bread or toast. A trip to a grocery store or a farmer’s market provides so many choices, from locally-sourced, single-origin honey to trendy products such as Mānuka honey, a honey that is sourced from the Mānuka tree that is native to Australia and New Zealand, or ‘prebiotic’ honey. All honey has prebiotic and antibacterial properties, even if it isn’t marketed that way. Raw and organic honey are also available. These products are usually not as clear as commercial pasteurized honey.

Also available in many stores is honeycomb. Honeycomb, or comb honey, consists of the hexagonal wax cells that are constructed by bees to contain larvae and the honey to feed them. This form of honey is not generally used in cooking or beverages. It is more of a novelty, a point of interest on a breakfast table, to be spread on bread or toast. During honey production when the honey is spun out of the comb by a centrifuge the wax cells may remain stable enough to be returned to the hive intact. Returning the wax cells to the hive allows the bees to expend less energy creating the structures as manipulate the wax. They need to consume more than 8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.

Humans have gathered honey since ancient times and began fermenting it more than 9,000 years ago in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Mead, also known as honey-wine, is a fermented beverage that at its simplest is made from honey, water, and yeast. Around the world it has more than 4 dozen names based on the local language or the variants that are used in its production. These can include the addition of fruits, herbs, and spices. My son Luke began the process of mead fermentation back in April so that he would have a special gift for the groomsmen at his wedding this past October.

In a simple yet multi-step process, honey is dissolved in just-boiled water and then additional cool filtered water is added to bring the temperature to a level in which yeast can thrive. The yeast that may be used is similar to brewer’s, winemaker’s or baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

 

Some other equipment that is helpful are a hydrometer, to measure the alcohol content, and an airlock for the neck of the container, to allow gas to escape but keep bad bacteria from contaminating the ‘must’, another name for the honey mixture.

Once this is set up the must needs to ferment for at least a month. As this happens you can see the fermentation actively happening as gas bubbles continually rise to the surface.

6-fermentation bubbles

The mead is ‘racked’ to smaller, airlocked containers so that any sediment remains in the initial container. Another month of fermentation and then it is ready to bottle and cork. Butterfly-pea blossom petals, from the flower butterfly-pea, Clitoria ternatea, added during the second fermentation turns the liquid a lovely shade of purple.

Speaking of weddings, bees also made an appearance at the ‘Flower Power’ bridal shower for our future daughter-in-law Jamie in the form of cookies and decorations.

The popularity of bees is evident in their presence of many household goods, from shower curtains and towels to honey pots and pictures. They even made an appearance on Jamie’s birthday cake recently!

It is easy to say that 2019 was the Year of the Bee for our family. Those little pollinators made their presence felt in many of our celebrations and in all of our gardens as they went from blossom to blossom, fertilizing fruits and vegetables that we would enjoy long into the new year.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Although winter officially started only a few days ago, the wet, rainy, snowy, and icy weather we’ve had over the past several weeks has put me into a bit of a funk. Don’t get me wrong: I am a Chicago native and have lived in New England for five years. I am well accustomed to a seemingly endless winter. But I think we can all agree that during a period of freezing, thawing, and mixed precipitation, the New England landscape leaves something to be imagined. Mud and dried grass muck up yards, bare deciduous trees leave our forests looking sparse, and the sky often remains one shade of gray. With only a few colors in the New England winter color wheel, I find myself dreaming of something decidedly more…green.

winter tree upright

Photo by Abby Beissinger

To help get myself out of this funk, I find myself thinking about planning the upcoming season’s garden. Usually December is too soon for me to start, but a recent post by University of Rhode Island Extension got me excited to plan early this year. In collaboration with Ocean State Job Lot, Burpee, and URI Master Gardeners, URI receives an annual donation of expired and unsold seed packs that they offer up to individuals, non-profits, schools, and more, to those living in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

URI Free Seeds

The stock of free seeds include a large variety of herbs, flowers, and vegetables—you just pay the cost of shipping ($0.25 per seed packet). To learn more about the free seed program, click here, and for the order form click here. All orders must be received by January 13th, 2020, and URI Master Gardeners will fill orders on a first-come, first-served basis.

A few things to consider once you receive your seeds:

  1. While early garden planning is fun, planting your seeds too early will leave your seedlings leggy and weak. They will be unlikely to rebound and recover when the time comes to plant seedlings outside. Pay close attention to your seed packet on when it recommends starting seeds inside based on your location’s last frost. You may find this planting calendar handy when selecting the date to start seeds inside.

Seed Packet

Photo adapted from Gardenerspath.com

  1. Since you won’t be planting your seeds for at least a few months, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator to increase their shelf life. Check out this Lady Bug article for more seed storage tips.

seed jar

Photo by Tenth Acre Farm

  1. When it is time to seed, select trays or containers that are 2-3 inches deep and have a drainage hole to allow for excess water to move through. If you plan to reuse containers from a previous season, make sure to sanitize them in a 1:10 dilute bleach solution to prevent the spread of disease causing agents (pathogens).

seed tray

Photo by DIY.com

  1. Select a soil-less media made for seed starting—not your average potting mix or soil from your backyard. The seed starting mix usually contains a combination of peat moss, vermiculite, and some fertilizers that provide ideal conditions for seed germination.

 

  1. Without adequate light, robust seedlings can be difficult to produce. Supplemental light is often needed. Refer to this fact sheet for more indoor seed growing tips and suggestions for lighting setups.

lighting setup

Photo by Thea & Bob Fry

 

Hopefully these free seeds will perk up those winter blues, and have you thinking about planning your 2020 garden early too.

 

–Abby Beissinger

mouse in seed pail

Mouse feasting in bucket of stored grass seed. P.Cooper photo.

Mice are seeking places to spend the winter and actively moving from outdoors to just about any protected area, including our homes, garages, shed and cars. They need shelter from the wet and cold weather like us and prefer to take advantage of areas humans have already created. Any dry and relative warm spot with access to food or an area to store scavenged food will do nicely. Car engines are another favorite nesting spot as they are sometimes warm and provide great protections from predators and weather. Mice will chew on wiring and filters under the hood causing considerable damage and cost for repairs.

House mice can live outdoors in good weather, but some will live in houses year round. They can have 8 litters of young per year with 5 to 6 babies each time. That is a lot of mice! Nests are usually made with 3o feet of a food source to keep the mother in close range with her young. Most often mice are active during the night.

mice in bird house must be evicted when old enough

Mouse family nesting in a birdhouse.

First line of defense to keep mice out of houses is to be preventive by sealing up or blocking points of entry. Seal cracks and crevices with spray foam around foundation where the sill plate attaches the frame of the home. Make sure doors and windows fit properly and use weather stripping. Mice can flatten their skeleton and cartilage to fit through a ¼ inch gap. They commonly squeeze through small gaps around wires and pipes entering the home. Mice are great climbers of trees and sides of buildings to gain access to attics and wall spaces. Trim overhanging tree branches, and prune back foundation planting from touching the house. Keep grass, brush and vegetation away from foundation. Inside the home, eliminate clutter which serves as hiding spots and nesting material. Attic and dryer vents can be covered with hardware cloth and caulk the edges.

Eliminate food sources for mice. If you are feeding the birds, you are also feeding the mice. Spilled seed on the ground attracts mice and other animals closer to the house. Cat and dog food left out all day in a dish for on demand feeding for your pet offers mice an anytime buffet, too. Store dry animal food, including dog biscuits in a hard, metal container.  Mice can chew through very hard plastic containers with their gnawing teeth.

Repellents are available which claim to keep mice away. One type emits a high-frequency sound humans are not likely to detect but animals do not like. Caution should be used as pets may not like either. Some versions are made for use under car hoods to keep mice out of engines. Scented mouse repellents are available containing various mixtures of peppermint, cloves, hot pepper capsaicin. Planting mint around the foundation is reported to work as a deterrent. Some folks claim mothballs will repel mice, but this is not a legal use of the product, and in practice mice have been known to relocate the stinky orbs out of their area.

Mouse control will be needed if your find activity or signs of mice inside the home. Sometimes you can hear them chewing on the wooden structure making up the house. Finding the tell-tale black droppings which look like a small grain of rice, only black, is means for action in that area.

mouse trap

Mouse trap places with the snap end against wall.

Control options are traps or poisons. Traps should be placed where you find the droppings. Mice prefer to run along the edge of the wall rather than out on the open floor. Place set traps butted up against a wall. Peanut butter is a great bait to use to attract them to the trap. There are many different traps on the market from the old-fashioned wooden base snap traps to battery operated traps with a metal plate which electrocutes the mice. I saw a new one which uses a funnel system and extremely small and strong rubber bands which snaps over their head causing a quick a death. There are also humane live traps where the mouse enters, the door closes behind it, and then you take the trap and mouse outside to release it still alive, just take it far away from your house.

Poisons are rodenticides regulated by the federal government. Always read and follow label directions. Mouse poisons can affect other non-target animals by directly eating the poison, or up the food chain if another animal or bird eats a mouse that ate the poison.  Also mice do not always leave the building after ingesting the poison, sometimes dying in the walls creating an odor as they decompose in an inaccessible site. Insects can find the carcass to assist in the decomposition process which brings another problem of bugs or flies into the home. Once the dead animal is completely decomposed, odor and insects should go away.

-Carol Quish

cobrahead weeder and red gloves

It is harvest time in the vegetable garden, doing end of season gathering of squash this week. The vines of the honeynut butternut and spaghetti squash have all withered and dried signaling the squashes are ready to be picked. Once the color deepens and skins toughen the fruit should be cut from the vines and cleaned up. I wash them in a slight bleach solution to remove any fungi and bacteria that might cause rot once they are placed in storage in my cool hatchway to the basement where they will not freeze. Wrapping each in a sheet of newspaper to keep them from touching is an added measure to help retard decomposition.

Squash harvest 2019

Back in the garden I pulled all of the vines to add to the compost or burn any diseased plant remains. Insect problems from this year might over winter in the plant debris so cleaning up the beds is recommended. While I am there, I scrape the soil with my 20 year old CobraHead hand-weeder, my favorite tool. When held horizontally it only disturbs the top inch or so of soil while I remove any weeds without bringing up many weed seeds from deeper in the soil which might germinate next year. Even though I am only disturbing shallow depths of the ground, some insects come crawling, wiggling and moving out of what they thought was a safe place to spend the winter. It is amazing to sit on my little garden stool and watch the life emerge from what at first glance, appears to be lifeless or dormant.

cobrahead weeder

First to emerge from the soil was a crazy snake worm, (Amynthas agrestis). They are an invasive species from distant lands of Korea and Japan, and do not belong in my New England garden. They move in an ‘S’ pattern and rather quickly, but they are no match for my fast, gloved hand to grab and toss into a repurposed ricotta container rescued from the recycle bin to live another life as a worm container of death. A few more swipes of the CobraHead and several more make an appearance only to be promptly deposited to the dreaded, dry plastic vessel too tall from them to slither out.

snakeworms 2

Normally worms are considered a beneficial being in the soil, but not snake worms. They damage the soil by eating large amounts of organic matter and leaving behind their castings (poop) which resembles Grapenuts cereal, small granules of black matter. Their castings change the micro biome of the soil making plants less likely to survive. There are not legally allowed control measure for obnoxious invaders except for hand removal of them. There is some research work being done at the University of Vermont and more around the Great Lakes as the snake worms are having a very large detrimental effect on the forest floor in those areas. Crazy snake worm adults will die when the ground freezes, but they leave behind their eggs, called cocoons, which will survive the cold to hatch next spring.

The next critter that made an appearance was an earwig. My gardens have always had a lot of these brown decomposers of dead plant material, but occasionally I they will feed on live leaves, flowers and fruit. Normally they do very little harm, despite their fierce looking pinchers on their butt end. They use their forceps for defense and offense, and will pinch skin if you hold one in your hand. Earwigs overwinter in the adult stage, coming out of their dormant period in the spring to ensure their population continues yet another year.earwig 10-19

Grubs are the larval stage of beetles. There are many beetles which inhabit soil and above ground spaces. Most lays eggs in or on the soil, which hatch into grubs that feed on plant roots. Grubs in the lawn can cause significant damage, so do grubs in the vegetable garden when they feed on the roots of my vegetable plants. As a general rule, I squish grubs when I find them in my vegetable beds, even though some adult beetles may be considered beneficial by feeding on other pests. In my garden, the Asiatic garden beetle is the predominate one, causing lots of feeding damage on my leaf crops. They love basil, effectively stripping plants seemingly overnight.

The vibrations of my scraping the soil seemed to bring armies of squash bug nymphs and adults to surface where I was working and to adjacent areas yet to be disturbed. This was the squash bed and I expected the squash pests to be where the cucurbit crop was grown, but I didn’t anticipate the crowd that came to see why I was unearthing their winter abode. Only the adult stage is listed as overwintering, but I found many nymphs not yet developed to their mature adult stage. I hope the cold will kill them so I don’t have to squish many more.

squash bug adult 10-19

Adult Squash Bug

 

The final insect I found while digging wasn’t crawling or moving. It was the resting stage of a moth, which species, I do not know. It was the pupa without many identifying features. I have yet to find a book just on moth pupae, but I am still looking. Once I found the pupa of a tomato hornworm, identifying itself by the hookshaped ‘horn’ on the end of the pupal case. I wish I had taken a photo of that one!

pupa, moth 10-19

-Carol Quish

 

zinnias 10-19

 

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